NTIA Begins the Pursuit for BEAD and Middle Mile Broadband Funding

Randy Sukow


Fiber spool

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has begun the process for distribution of billions in funding for broadband infrastructure nationwide. As described in a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program (PDF), NTIA will provide the states $42 billion to support broadband access to unserved and underserved rural areas. At the same time, it also released a NOFO for the $1 billion Middle Mile Grant Program (PDF) to build or upgrade existing fiber connections from remote areas to the national internet backbone.

NTIA set a July 18 deadline for states to file letters of intent to participate in the BEAD Program. Entities eligible for Middle Mile Program support will have until Sept. 30 to submit applications. Eligible middle-mile entities include state governments as well as electric and other utility companies, certain non-profit organizations and partnerships that could include all those various organizations.

NRTC Funding Services is gathering information on the best next-moves for members interested in pursuing the programs. NTIA advises potential eligible applicants to begin coordinating with local governments that will be working with the states to distribute funds.

In a timeline accompanying the BEAD NOFO (see below), NTIA estimates that funding will begin to flow to broadband providers in 2025 or approximately one year after the states approve providers’ applications. However, the program’s timing is highly dependent on FCC progress toward drawing new, more accurate maps pinpointing where current broadband services exist or do not exist.

The Middle Mile Grant NOFO specifies that those winning funds may use them to build middle-mile lines, upgrade them or acquire existing infrastructure. Because the program is not tied to the FCC mapping project, NTIA estimates that it could announce awards at a faster pace with the first announcements sometime after March 1, 2023.

Finally, NTIA also released the NOFO for the State Digital Equity Planning (SDEP) Grant Program (PDF), which directs $60 million toward the states for “digital equity plans.” The NOFO defines digital equity as “the condition in which individuals and communities have the information technology capacity that is needed for full participation in the society and [U.S.] economy.” SDEP is part of a series of digital equity programs that also includes $1.44 billion for five-year digital equity grants and $1.25 billion for “competitive grants.” NTIA estimates that the planning grant awards could be announced in 2023 and funding from the full series of programs could extend beyond 2026.

NTIA set a July 12 application deadline for the $60 million program with the first awards to be announced after Sept. 29.

In other federal broadband funding news, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) have issued a “joint resource guide” to help organizations draw support from both agencies’ programs to promote economic development. “Infrastructure and broadband expansion” is among the target areas the guide features with background on USDA’s Broadband Reconnect Program and a long list of others.

Coming up on May 19, the FCC has placed a broadband funding item on the agenda (PDF) for its regular monthly meeting. It will consider a rulemaking to modify the Alternative Connect America Model (A-CAM) for calculating support for eligible telecommunications carriers under legacy universal service programs.

Update, May 20: NRTC has posted a summary of the BEAD program (PDF) on its website. The summary provides quick recaps of the amounts available in the states, important deadlines, eligible participants, eligible projects and other program information.

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